Woman walking Dalmatian along shoreline in Celina (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region Visitors Center)

Visit Ohio’s Grand Lake Region This Summer

The largest manmade inland lake in Ohio first draws many travelers to this part of northwest Ohio, and its surrounding communities and fun and inviting places to explore.

Stand along its edge and it is easy to see why Grand Lake is deserving of its name. As the state’s largest inland lake, Grand Lake St. Marys covers 13,500 surface acres, making it a destination for those seeking summer fun on the water and the shore-town atmosphere to go with it. The lake caters to boaters with unlimited horsepower and plenty of space to spread out, but the body of water’s size also means there are places to find quiet spots that are ideal for fishing and birding. Overnight accommodations range from a campground at a state park along the shore to new townhomes that are part of a tropical-themed lakeside development. A short drive to Wapakoneta provides the chance to explore the small-town atmosphere that shaped the life of astronaut and American hero Neil Armstrong.

Colorful townhomes at Celina’s Boardwalk Village (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region Visitors Center)
Lake Life

Taking in the pastel-colored townhomes along the shore and the pelicans that have decided to take up residence on Grand Lake St. Marys, summer visitors are often surprised to find a distinctly coastal vibe in this corner of northwest Ohio farming country. 

“We have an uncanny number of pelicans … For some reason, they’ve picked Grand Lake to spend their summers,” says Dave Faler, park manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park. “Some stay most of the year.”

The state park is a hot spot for birding, and manmade, raised riparian wetlands have improved water quality and helped attract abundant waterfowl. Spring birders are likely to spy common loons migrating north, while bald eagles and osprey also frequent the area. Sport fishing is big here, and there are seven state park boat ramps as well as a marina offering boat rentals to help travelers and locals alike get out on the water. The state park’s 208-site campground bustles with multiple playgrounds, a splash pad, a swimming pool, miniature golf and a dog park.

Boaters can dock at nearby restaurants for cold drinks, fresh food and live music. The family-operated Lakeside Hideout Bar & Grill on Grand Lake’s south shore is a lively spot with menu offerings like the signature Bonnie & Clyde Burger and the Bootlegger BBQ Pork as well as frosty beers and bourbon pours from a large collection.

Bayview Pub in Celina draws crowds for classic burgers, wraps, pizzas and drinks in a casual bar setting, while those seeking Italian cuisine head to Bella’s Italian Grill along the west shore of the lake for lasagna, seafood or strombolis prepared in a stone oven. 

The Boardwalk Grill and its Key West-themed decor is the newest addition to the Grand Lake scene. Expansive outdoor seating looks out across the water, while the menu brims with seafood, sandwiches, salads and made-from-scratch pizzas that can be enjoyed alongside cocktails and craft beers.

People boating on Grand Lake St. Marys near Boardwalk Village in Celina (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region Visitors Center)
Island Vibes

Tropical-hued, conch-style houses fill Boardwalk Village, while small palm trees surround an aquamarine swimming pool at the heart of it. This idyllic getaway opened in Celina along the shore of Grand Lake St. Marys in 2022 and continues to grow as it draws travelers looking for the flavor of an island-style getaway without straying far from home.

“You’ll find yourself in a tropical oasis in a small Midwestern town,” says Nikki Herring, property manager at Boardwalk Village.

Grand Lake serves as the backdrop to this waterside development that includes a Boardwalk Marketplace, waterfront dining at the adjacent Boardwalk Grill, boat rentals and a space to host outdoor entertainment. A play area spans pickleball courts, sand volleyball, cornhole sets and a section where kids can let loose.

The local RCS Construction created Boardwalk Village, which opened its first phase in 2022. Each unit has a private front porch with either a view of the pool or waterfront. Cottages are themed, like Paradise Palms — a two-story canary yellow townhouse — or the coral-colored Rusty Crab waterfront cottage. Some are pet-friendly while others offer private hot tubs.

“Being family-owned and local — we are all from the area — we’re passionate about Boardwalk [Village] and creating this experience for locals and visitors, both,” says Brianna Obringer, Boardwalk Village’s marketing coordinator.

For those staying here, lunch, dinner or drinks at Boardwalk Grill is just steps away, or visitors can walk just a little farther for an ice cream cone at Dream Dippers. Helton Lodge Rentals at Boardwalk Village rents pontoons and speedboats as well as bicycles and golf carts that aid in getting around town. Boardwalk Village’s Blue Goose shuttle bus also serves overnight guests by ferrying them t local bars and restaurants on the weekends, including downtown Celina favorites like The Anchor, The James Watson House and Speakeasy Steak & Ale House. Just a short drive away, Celina’s Shipyard Sports and Events Center boasts two field houses, a 24-hour-a-day fitness facility and a sports bar with four golf simulators.

Aerial view of Armsrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta (photo courtesy of Grand Lake Region Visitors Center)
Small-Town Finds 

Hard to say, but easy to visit, nearby Wapakoneta (pronounced waa-puh-kuh-neh-tuh) is most well-known as the hometown of astronaut and American hero Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Reminders of that fact can be found throughout town, with the centerpiece being the Armstrong Air & Space Museum, which is designed to resemble a futuristic moon base.

“Small but mighty, that’s what reviewers say about our museum,” says Logan Rex, curator and communications director at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. “There’s something inspirational about Neil Armstrong’s story and Apollo 11, and we tell it well.”

Rex says highlights include four of Armstrong’s crafts (including his Learjet that broke five world records), an Apollo 11 moon rock, space suits, a moon-landing simulator and the infinity room that immerses visitors in a star-filled cosmos.

“Neil’s influence is strong here, from his boyhood home to statues and murals,” says Jackie Martell, director of the Wapakoneta Chamber of Commerce. “Even electric boxes are wrapped in space art.”

Each July, the six-day Summer Moon Festival celebrates Armstrong with an event that includes a Moon Market featuring over 60 vendors and artisans, food trucks, live music and activities at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Travelers can also explore Armstrong’s life beyond the festival by way of a self-guided walking tour that traces the path of his life in Wapakoneta. Plus, there’s the Moon Menu Trail.

“People come here for Neil Armstrong and space, but they fall in love with the small-town experience,” Martell says. “We’re that quintessential Hallmark town, that slice of Americana.” 

That small-town atmosphere is evidenced in the classic marquee announcing first-run movies at the 1904 Wapa Theatre. Traditional small-town pastimes like farmers markets, bingo, the county fair, cake walks, and fishing derbies still thrive here too.

“Our history is strong,” Martell says, “but we build on more modern amenities with our parks, arts and downtown.”

When You Go 
For more information about these and other destinations in the Grand Lake Visitors Region go to seemore.org.

The Anchor 

Armstrong Air & Space Museum 

Bella’s Italian Grill

Grand Lake St. Marys State Park

Bayview Pub

Boardwalk Grill

Boardwalk Village

Helton Lodge Rentals

The James Watson House

Lakeside Hideout Bar & Grill

Speakeasy Steak & Ale House

Rush Sports Complex